Note: In this post, I will be discussing emotional safety and healing. If you are being emotionally abused, or if you fear for your physical safety because of physical abuse or the threat of it, please seek help and support as soon as possible. What I am writing about here does not apply to you.
I’ve been writing about the walls we build to help us feel emotionally safe in our marriages. I’ve written about how and why we build those walls, the importance of forgiveness in freeing our hearts of bitterness, and tools we can use as we work to tear down our emotional walls.
Today I would like to write about the other side of the wall.
Emotional safety goes both directions.
My wall was built as a response to ways I’d felt hurt by my husband. One of the ways this wall manifested was that I began to withhold myself from him—emotionally, mentally, and especially sexually.
I had so many restrictions on how and when we could have sex. It was like the planets had to align just right before I would be willing—and since he didn’t know just the right formula, he was afraid to do anything that might upset the balance.
A spouse who is stomped on sexually isn’t likely to feel emotionally safe.
Like many men, my husband’s sexuality is a deep part of the core of who he is. My frequent “no” and my dismissal of the importance of sexual intimacy was perceived as a rejection of the most vulnerable part of who he was. Because he connected with me most intimately through sexuality, my sexual rejection hurt him deeply. As a result, he withheld a lot of who he was for fear of turning me away from him.
This was not because he was a sex-crazed horn dog. It was because he was so desperate to experience full intimacy—knowing, and being known—that he was afraid to risk anything that might interfere with that.
I had shown him time and time again that I didn’t love him in the fullness of who he was. I said the words “I love you,” just as he did to me, but my actions demonstrated that I didn’t truly love or accept all of him. For years.
His dreams, his fears, and his feelings of joy and pride were hidden from me because he didn’t feel completely safe revealing himself to me.
Two people who both feel emotionally unsafe are like two ships who pass in the night, knowing the other is there but not really seeing the other.
Big Guy (not wanting to reveal his emotional vulnerability and his need to feel loved and connected): I’m horny.
Me: I’m worn out (thinking that I needed to feel understood by my husband, wanting so much for him to tell me he loved me and that he appreciated all the things that made me worn out, mentally begging him to let me know he loved me more than he loved sex, because that would melt my heart and help me feel connected enough with him to have sex)
Big Guy: Figures/what’s wrong with you/you need to fix this hatred you have for sex (because he was feeling so rejected and deeply hurt because his own wife didn’t want to have sex with him, wondering what was wrong with him that I found him so undesirable)
Me: Well, fine, if that’s how you’re going to be, why would I even want to have sex with you? (and inside I was weeping because my own husband didn’t love me enough to acknowledge my feelings)
Big Guy (heartbroken and afraid to reveal the fullness of his heart because I would just reject it again, but hoping that going through the motions would change my mind and that he could feel desired and desirable for just a short while): Fine
I had built a wall in our marriage, but my husband had built one, too—to protect his heart from the damage that I was unknowingly inflicting.
Walls keep things out, but they also keep things in.
My lack of emotional safety resulted in not being able to share my body. For my husband, the lack of emotional safety resulted in not being able to share his heart.
The thing I desired the most from my husband was an emotional connection through the sharing of his heart—yet my constant resistance to sex created a barrier against his willingness to have that connection with me.
The thing my husband most desired from me was an emotional connection through sexual intimacy—yet his resistance to sharing his heart created a barrier against my willingness to have a sexual connection with him.
In The Gift of the Magi, two spouses give up deeply cherished things in order to afford a gift to give to the other.
Our marriage was more like the reverse—a Curse of the Magi, where we each refused to let go of the very thing that was necessary to get what we ourselves most deeply desired.
The walls we built to help ourselves feel safe were the very things that denied us access to what we wanted most.
It took me several years to dismantle the wall I’d built against my husband. As my wall started to crumble, I began to catch glimpses of my husband’s wall—one I’d never even known was there.
My years-long rejection of sexual intimacy was a long-term sin against my husband. When I opened my heart and changed how I was treating my husband, I expected him to stop hurting right away. I was no longer depriving him, so why was he still unable to share his heart with me? I’d stopped hurting him, but he still had his walls.
My husband forgave me of my sin fairly quickly—but it still took him time to heal and to be able to trust me again.
It took a few years for me to dismantle my own wall—and it was only then, with persistent demonstration of my repentance and real change, that my husband began to dismantle his.
My husband and I both sat behind our own walls waiting for the other to make a change, all the while maintaining the very thing that made the other feel unready to make those changes.
One of the difficult truths I’ve had to face is that my husband felt just as emotionally unsafe as I did.
It is a hard thing to realize I was the maker of so much of my own misery.
I wasted so many years building and maintaining my wall, preventing the very emotional intimacy that I craved. I’ve had moments when the awareness of that has knocked me to the ground. All that wasted time . . .
If you have built a wall for your emotional safety in your marriage, I know that you are hurting. Tearing down your wall means that you would be making yourself vulnerable and risking further hurt. I know how frightening that is.
You may be waiting for your husband to make the changes that allow you to feel safe enough to begin to work on your wall.
On the other side, is your husband sitting behind his own wall, waiting on you?
Are you willing to reach out, from your hurting heart to his, to begin to bridge the gap between your walls?
Read these posts for more thoughts about your husband’s heart:
- Your Husband’s Hurt
- Rebuilding His Trust
- A Damaged Heart
- The Power of “And”
- Care for Your Husband’s Heart
- Six Things to Know about Sexual Refusal
Posts in this series: